BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A measure to allow the state education department to survey students on sex-related risk behaviors narrowly advanced to the Louisiana House for debate after passing a committee Tuesday.
The House Education Committee voted 7-6 for the bill by Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, who argued the questions will help prevent sex-related health problems, just as a current survey's questions on teen drug use prevent substance-related health problems.
"We have done some good," she said, referring to drug-prevention programs.
The bill would allow the addition of nine questions related to sex health to the current survey that tracks teens' behaviors.
Smith said by adding questions about sex health, the state can help teens avoid sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.
Louisiana currently prohibits the survey from including questions on sex, with opponents arguing the ban protects a parent's right to educate their children on the matter.
Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, sparred with supporters, saying adding sex-related questions would violate parental rights.
"Your survey is going to lead to intervention," he said.
Fellow opponent Sandy McDade, with the conservative Louisiana Power Coalition, argued that the questions would offend parents and persuade teens to have sex.
"They're very, very leading," she said.
Supporters said the bill is about gaining more information in a state with high rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
According to Patty Kissinger, professor of epidemiology at Tulane University, Louisiana has the sixth-highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. Kissinger, who testified for the proposal, said an assessment on teen sex health would help get Louisiana federal grants to address the statistic.
Autumn Gondolfi, representing Know More Louisiana, an organization pushing for sex education in schools, said Louisiana's optional, abstinence-only sex education gives teens an inaccurate view of sex and relationships.
"We've got to fight for healthy relationship education," she said.
Ivey said he would not want his daughter answering questions about sexual activity.
Voting with Ivey were Reps. Henry Burns, R-Haughton; Simone Champagne, R-Erath; Paul Hollis, R-Covington; Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette; and Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City.
Voting with Smith to get the measure to the House floor were Reps. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans; Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond; Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport; Patrick Jefferson, D-Homer; Ed Price, D-Gonzales; and Alfred Williams, D-Baton Rouge.
The committee then debated another measure by Smith that would require sex education in public schools, but that measure was postponed until Wednesday after the committee ran out of time.